Great to eat or grow as a colour­ful or­na­men­tal

Amateur Gardening - - Contents -

ONE of the most strik­ing sum­mer bed­ding com­bi­na­tions I’ve ever seen was at the Royal Botanic Gar­dens, Kew, years ago, when the beds in front of the Palm House were given over to veg­eta­bles – or­na­men­tal veg­eta­bles, planted with flow­ers. And there, ris­ing out of a car­pet of white alyssum, were the bright-red stems of ruby chard. It looked fan­tas­tic.

That was be­fore I dis­cov­ered how good it was to eat! The leaves are of­ten bet­ter than spinach for so many of the same dishes, with a richer flavour and such a dark, deep colour.

But first let’s clear up ex­actly what we’re talk­ing about here, be­cause dif­fer­ent terms are used for the same thing and it can get a lit­tle con­fus­ing. All these plants are forms of the British na­tive sea­side plant Beta vul­garis subsp.

mar­itima – as is the beet­root and sugar beet. The chards, with their fat, coloured leaf stems and large, puck­ered leaves, fall into one group, while per­pet­ual spinach, with its more slen­der green stems and flat fo­liage, falls into an­other.

The chards are also known as seakale beet, rhubarb chard, ruby chard, Swiss chard, sil­ver chard and sil­ver beet. Mean­while, per­pet­ual spinach is also known as spinach beet, but is more closely re­lated to chard than to an­nual spinach. I told you it was con­fus­ing!

What­ever you call them, they can all be grown in the same way, and they have one huge ad­van­tage over or­di­nary an­nual spinach – they don’t run to seed the mo­ment the weather warms up or you take a week’s hol­i­day. Last month,

I fi­nally dug up the ‘Bright Lights’ chard I’d sown in April last year. It had pro­vided count­less har­vests since last sum­mer.

I find the best way to har­vest both chard and per­pet­ual spinach is to snip the older outer leaves as you need them; new leaves will con­tinue to de­velop in the cen­tre of the plant. This pro­vides leaves for the kitchen while at the same time leav­ing colour on the plant. Whole plants can be cut, but do­ing so means weeks with a colour­less gap in the gar­den, and some­times prompts bolt­ing.

Chards are also pop­u­lar grown as baby leaves, their bold, colour­ful stems spark­ing up sal­ads – both vis­ually and in terms of flavour – when har­vested at just a few inches high. A sin­gle spring sow­ing can give you baby leaves for sal­ads and months of reg­u­lar har­vests while, at the same time, pro­vid­ing in­valu­able colour in the veg­etable gar­den. Not a bad re­turn for one packet of seed.

Tastier and more at­trac­tive than spinach, chard is also eas­ier to grow and less likely to bolt dur­ing hot weather

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